Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bodies, Animals, and Minds 7 --- Aquinas 5

Even though Aquinas’s view does line up with certain intuitons we have about material objects and living organisms, Aquinas’s view does have some odd consequences. The most important of those runs as follows.

What would happen if I were to suddenly die in the next few seconds? Well, my body would fall lifeless to the floor, and you would be left with a corpse on your hands. But the question is: would that lifeless corpse be the same body as the living one that is standing here now?

Aquinas would have to say no. Remember: Aquinas maintains that here in this region of space that I am now occupying, there is just one thing, and that’s me. So, if I were to die, one of two things could happen. Either this one thing (me) would cease to exist altogether, or it would get whisked away to the ‘other side’ (heaven, hell, or wherever it is you think dead people go). Indeed, that’s what it means for something to die: it ceases to exist, or it goes away to the ‘other side’.

But either way, the thing that occupies this region of space right now would no longer be here. Consequently, the corpse would have to be something new, something that pops into existence at the moment of my death and then fills the exact same spot where I was standing a moment before. Crazy, eh?


awatkins69 said...

Are you sure it would be "popping into existence"? Surely it's a different thing now;it has a different form (that of a corpse). However, it's the same matter. It's not that implausible.

When two hydrogen atoms combine with an oxygen atom, a new compound comes into existence. This isn't terribly implausible.

Another interesting example is the Holy Eucharist. It seems to be the same body as it was before, just like the corpse does. But it's really something completely different from before when the minister hadn't said the words of consecration.

JT Paasch said...

Good point, and you're very right. Aquinas would say that the matter of my body will persist throughout my death, though it will acquire a new form (a 'corpse' form) when I die.

That being said, Aquinas thinks that a lump of matter + a new substantial form = a new thing/substance, so there would be a new thing/substance popping into existence all the same.

But the matter/form analysis isn't what seems so implausible. The bit that seems so implausible is this: that the corpse will be a different body than the body that was there a moment before my death. After all, the body that is there the moment before my death and the body (corpse) that is there the moment after my death sure look to be the same! If they were two genuinely different things/substances (as Aquinas admits), then what could possibly explain the fact that they would have all the same incidental/accidental characteristics (e.g., the same flesh and bones, organs, parts, dimensions, colors, etc.)?

You also make a very good point about the Eucharist. But then again, the Eucharist was used by the pluralists to argue that Aquinas's view of bodies would make his doctrine of the Eucharist heretical.